Some Final Thoughts from a Pennsylvania Boy

Submitted by Six Zero on November 9th, 2011 at 6:24 PM

[ED: Bump.]

Five days.

It's amazing how fast life can change.  What's happened in State College is an amazing reminder of how unstable even the most bedrock things in life really are.

That might sound ridiculous when we're talking about a mere football coach.  But keep in mind that Bo coached for twenty years.  Paterno's been a part of that program for almost fifty.

Watching all of this play out has been nothing short of a nightmare, even from someone like myself who is not a fan but has always respected and admired the football program if not directly supported it.  These stories have not showed up as random links in college football tabs on my desktop, but rather on the front page of the paper that lies in my driveway every morning.  What has seemed like an untouchable truth has crumbled around us in the blink of an eye.

Reading the SI articles today, it was amazing to see how they provided such a stark contrast of how Sandusky, Paterno, and ultimately Penn State football, was perceived for what seemed like eternity.  For me, I grew up in the reality that grass was green, the sky is blue, and Joe Paterno is the respected football coach.  I remember a wrestling coach who openly emulated him in every way.  I remember entire towns cleaning up because Paterno may or may not be coming to visit a potential recruit.  I was raised in a Penn State family. I have an uncle who is probably right now clearing signed footballs from his mantle.  I have an aunt who used to babysit for the Paternos in the very house I watched on SportsCenter last night--  I've driven past it myself, and been amazed at how humble the little home is for a man of such legendary stature.  And while I was never forced to be a PSU fan, I was always aware of how much the program was about values, and what those values meant to my dad and uncle and grandfather.  Honesty.  Integrity.  Hard work.  These things meant everything to my role models, and maybe that's why Penn State meant so much to them as well.

This morning I was in the car when Greenberg literally had the news about JoePa dropped in his lap and he read it aloud.  We in Pennsylvania all knew this day would one day come, but like this?

Learning that the ethical standards that went hand in hand with Joe Paterno were not only inaccurate, but has also cost him his immortal job status?  Well, it's like waking up one day and finding that the United States is secretly run by a Communist dictator.  It just doesn't make sense, and certainly doesn't seem real.

Penn State football will not suspend its games for the season.  That's unfair to Nebraska and certainly unfair to the current players.  Penn State football will certainly not fold like the Post suggested in its editorial.  It will move on, and it will one day be free of this grip of shame and unspeakable horror.  Not even this will shut down the program.

But what it will cost Penn State is its tradition.

When I think of Penn State football, it's always had a timeless feel.  Regardless of whatever composite materials or Revolution designs the helmet evolved into, it would still remain plain.  Boring.  Penn State.

What I never could have imagined is that in the decade to come, the school might knowingly sink that tradition, just to move away from all this.  In 2020 you might very well see Penn State in some ridiculous ProCombat jersey with leaping mountain lions across the shoulders.  You might see gray trim on the numbers.  You might see the athletic logo, known affectionately in these parts as the 'Beaver head,' finally on both sides of the helmet.  And that helmet might be gray, or blue, or both.  And not because Paterno is no longer there to refuse the idea... but rather to distance the program from what is now and will forever be remembered as a marred past.

There was once talk in the early 2000's that not simply the stadium would be renamed in Paterno's honor, but rather the entire campus or town itself.  Paterno Park.  Paternoville.  He was as timeless and as frozen in goodwill as Santa Claus.  Until now.

Penn State tradition was forever altered this week.  The men that will soon be put to task to pick up the pieces of this Hiroshima-esque landscape might very well choose to bury that tradition once and for all.  And for many, dreams, memories and entire ways of life will die with it.

There's a friend of mine down the street, an alum, who along with his dad, my neighbor, cherish their season tickets like family heirlooms.  That will not change.  They will continue to go, continue to tailgate and even continue to fly the flag outside their homes.  But this week, I have thought about him much, and specifically about what he will do on Saturday morning when he packs up the car and prepares to take the family up to State College.  He's got a son, about the same age as mine, who is always wearing blue and white on a Saturday morning.  And how on earth does he put his son in a Penn State jersey this week?  And if he doesn't, how does he tell his son that he can't wear his Moye jersey?  How do you tell him to stop loving JoePa, or explain why he won't be there next year?

Yes, I know, small fries compared to the lives of those poor kids whose trust was betrayed by that monster.  But life as we all know it has changed this week in Pennsylvania, and the ripple effects of this mess will continue to affect normal everyday people in my life and beyond for years to come.  It's just a really sad, improbable day... and we can only hope that lessons are learned and that lives can be changed for the better with the serving of justice. 

I know I'm not the only PA native here on the blog, and I'm curious to hear Steve in PA's take, and others.  But it's a strange, surreal blur of a bad dream in our community and thought it might be worth sharing and describing for the rest of you, if you're so inclined.  This is my last mention of the subject.

Prayers for the victims, and Go Blue.


Feat of Clay

November 9th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

I'm not from PA, so I can't ring in from that perspective.  But I'm hopeful Joe Paterno can still make some good come of this.  As someone in another thread here pointed out, JoePa still has the ear of many and stands on quite a soapbox.  He could use that platform for good.  It won't erase the stain that many feel is on his character, and it won't turn back time for the victims.  But I'd like to have a world where Joe Paterno used his time to work tirelessly to raise awareness & prevent future incidences of abuse.  Not to mention promoting people acting bravely & promptly when they suspect it is happening.


November 10th, 2011 at 12:14 PM ^

Exactly...JoePa said something to the tune of "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more".  The only damned thing that hindsight informed him of is the fact that the public at large would find out what he and his program ignored.  So he wishes he had done more because he didn't know this would become embarrasing?  because it prevented him from going out on his own terms?  It's really shameful.


November 9th, 2011 at 1:59 PM ^

My wife is a PSU alum, and we live in the burbs of Philly. It seems like people who are fans are walking around in a haze, totally in shock and not really sure what to think or what to do. My wife was and still is definitely upset and I think for her and many of her friends, not really sure what the future will look like in Happy Valley. Nice post.


November 9th, 2011 at 2:20 PM ^

I think you can make fun of everything...but I just can't, because the situation is really sad. Maybe not for some of the perpetrators, but for the program as a whole, environmental organism?  Sad.

Because while I doubt I would just completely give up Michigan Football if it came to this, I certainly could NEVER look at it in the same light, or love it as much.  It would always be tainted, till the day I die.  I mean, the basketball program took a long time before it could elicit any enjoyment....and a teenager taking a lot of cash is lilliputian potatoes compared to this.  And for that, I feel sad for the players, families, and fans, who had no knowledge or nothing to do with this.  For them, it has changed forever.

(Add to the list I saw CRex say he was a Penn. native).


November 9th, 2011 at 2:35 PM ^

While you don't live in PA, so you might now see it, the people in PA are victims of fraud.  That's what the whole post is about. 

I know that there were more heinous crimes committed, but yeah, people can feel sorry for all victims.


November 9th, 2011 at 2:57 PM ^

I hear what you're saying, but ALL sympathy at this time should be reserved for the families with children involved in this story.  By way of terrible analogy, saying that PA residents are victims its like saying someone being stranded on the Verizano (sp?) Bridge due to all the traffic on 9/11 is a victim that deserves sympathy.  Sure, it sucked to be them, but even taking a moment of time to think about them is a moment wasted.  Everyone with any kind of link to the story has their own sypathetic story (and I mean no disrespect to the OP here who I'm sure really only cares about the real victims), but sympathy to any degree of separation from the families of the abused is misfocused.


November 9th, 2011 at 3:59 PM ^

I felt/thought many of the same sentiments you've expressed. 

I grew up outside Harrisburg and faced childhood being "persuaded" via blu-and-white garage doors, blue cars, uncles who made their daughters' husbands-to-be put on PSU jerseys at the rehearsal dinners... 

I, of course (maybe "teen rebellion"), always wanted something else: something more exciting, maybe more arrogant, not slow, black-shoed, and boring.  I didn't want a part of "earning" success, I wanted "expected" success.  Enter Michigan.  Even after Bo and his Wolverines became (and have been for the last 30+years) my team, I still had a strong sense of respect for the power that was PSU through that part of my life.  It lead me to look for ways of disparging it in family arguments:  telling my sister that PSU "stole" the Clemson Tiger paw and just painted it blue; asking friends why PSU insists on playing Janet Jackson's Black Cat intro growl every time they have a good play, how thick would JoePa's glasses/high high above his ankles would his pants cuffs be this year... Their wasn't real dirt or fodder to chastise them about, ever.  They didn't do ANYTHING wrong.

If there was one thing that anyone could always go to that was inarguable, it was "how" PSU went about their ways:  No names, no flashy look, no acting like asshats - even when confronted by the likes of camo-wearing Hurricanes - let alone always seeming to beat the "bad guys".  They were in essence a sense "poetic justice" for that period of time.

Now, their devoted fans are scrambling to understand.  They haven't even begun to "pick up the pieces".  It's so far out of character, almost existential.  Even though we no longer live in PA, my daughter has camped at PSU for volleyball. She asked my sister (an alum who still lives there) for a new PSU Vball sweatshirt for Christmas.  She called yesterday because she can't bring herself to buy it.

I know comparisons are petty, but those truly invested PSU fans trying to believe this kind of thing could happen at their particular school, would be like asking me as a parent to believe that my own father was guilty of molesting my kids, and that my wife somehow has known for years.  I can't imagine the range of digust/sickness/sorrow/anger that would overcome someone, short of visualizing it as a personal matter - For this PSU "family", that's what this really is... "personal". 

"We" are for 5 days now all appalled and want vengence, querying "How was this abomination allowed to happen?"  "They" are now trying to put new meaning to feelings/certainties that they've held as true for 50 years. 

I don't think many people, let alone fanbases, can truly comprehend it.   


November 9th, 2011 at 2:56 PM ^

Very well written Six - Zero.  As angry as i am at the parties involved in this horror you do give an excellent take on the "collateral damage" on the average PSU fan. 



November 9th, 2011 at 3:28 PM ^

in the right direction: 

"I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief. I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today. That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can. This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more. My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University."

Obviously leaves a lot of questions, but so do five or six different agencies clearing Sandusky and letting his "charity" continue, letting him adopt, foster, etc. Also knowing that Paterno and Sandusky were not friends clears a little more space between Joe and any obvious complicity. And his admission that he should have done more, statement that he doesn't want it to be about him. . . at least a BIT of decency and humility there. 


November 9th, 2011 at 8:54 PM ^

Whoa careful there.  Where did I say it was a lie?  I said he didn't believe he wrote it and for me that makes it not credible.  You are free to believe whatever you please but be more careful with your retorts.  If that's how you did your PR it speaks for itself.

Steve in PA

November 9th, 2011 at 7:20 PM ^

That's why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status.

You lost the option to choose when you chose your program over doing the right thing, old man!  Someone else controls your fate now.  Not fun is it?


November 9th, 2011 at 3:44 PM ^

Though I'm from New Jersey, I actually grew up a Penn State fan like most kids I grew up with.  They were the adopted team for most of New Jersey because Rutgers was so terrible and we didn't want to give New York any satisfaction by recognizing Syracuse.  I grew up idolizing JoePa, Kerry Collins, Curtis Enis, LaVar Arrington, and still hating Ohio.  

But now, the team of my childhood, pretty much the only college football I followed until my junior year of high school, is different.  To think I was the same age of some of these kids at the time these atrocities first occurred is scary.  My family almost moved to PA around this time.  I could've been one of these kids.  I do not want to even come close to imagining what they went through.  But I have, and it has tarnished part of my childhood.

I hope what can be done is done and that PSU can heal from this gash to a otherwise great university.


November 9th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

People are always shocked to believe that their heroes are people just like everyone else - flawed, imperfect, human. Joe Paterno made the decision to pass the buck for a number of years, but in the end, it was really one decision. It was the wrong one. "The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones" is a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - and it's as true today as it was then. 

Joe Paterno is a hell of a coach, and, I believe, a decent person. He made a decision that you and I make from day to day - to let someone else handle it. Unfortunately for Paterno (but especially for the victims), it was the wrong choice. I can't even begin to understand what drives someone to do the things that Sandusky allegedly did, and I can't begin to understand what it must feel like to find that out about someone. Some people are legends for their obvious humanity. Others are larger than life. All I know is that it's disgusting what Sandusky did, it's awful that Paterno didn't speak up, and, in a culture that reveres its legends like none other, it is a shame that they are now one fewer in number.



November 9th, 2011 at 5:22 PM ^

They went through 30 or so potential jurors before they got to me. Given a forwarning about what the case was about (a father having sex with his 5 year old adopted daughter) half the jurors selected in front of me begged and pleaded not to sit the case.

When her daughter first told her what daddy was doing, the mother in the case couldn't believe it, and still talked to the father and worried about his well being for days afterwards. The mother is a teacher. She had been trained to recognize signs. She didn't. Fortunately she called in her pastor immediately, who did the right thing and reported to child services.

Bottom line: given the grand jury report, it is easy to say "how could they?" The crime is so abhorrent, people just do not want to have anything to do with it. They want to deny it is happening. They cannot believe anyone is capable of it, especially people they know closely. If they can pass the responsibility to someone else, they will gladly do so.



November 10th, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

Your point is well taken. But it's not like Paterno needed to take some grand responsibility - all he needed to do was, when his superiors did nothing, to pass the responsibilty to the police. Paterno needed to do nothing more than that. Also, there is evidence that he may have watered down or made ambiguous the account the witness made to him; if that is true, than Paterno is guilty of more than just passing the buck.

Enjoy Life

November 9th, 2011 at 6:15 PM ^

It now appears that JoePa and the others knew about this since at least 1998. It is hard to believe that a police investigation at that time did not involve any discussions with JoePa and others.

Everyone wondered why Sandusky "retired" so abruptly -- perhaps, now we know.

JoePa and others testified to the GrandJury months ago and still never said anything publicly.

So, this appears to be several bad decisions by JoePa and others over many, many years.


November 10th, 2011 at 9:12 AM ^

1 nit with your comments, that are otherwise on point, he probably couldn't say anything publicy during the investigation.

However, he certainly could have banned that asshole from the facilities instead of letting him hang around and work out last week and what not.


November 9th, 2011 at 5:03 PM ^

All I can say is that despite the accusations and assumptions that he would be leaving not one PSU fan I know was expecting him to actually leave. Everyone is shocked, myself included. I know some of his family members and I know they are shocked. He is one man who unites so many people here in PA. One person I would compare him to is the Queen of England he is that much of an icon. He IS Penn State football and to see him gone is deeply saddening. Jerry Sandusky is now responsible for casting this terrible shadow over one of the greatest coaching careers in football history on top of his unspeakable crimes. He is the worst type of person. Sorry for the incoherent rant just my take.


November 9th, 2011 at 5:54 PM ^

And of course, the only ones who might possible be, not happy about this situation, but less than devastated are the Buckeyes. To take heat off of them and give the college football world a new focus - and not just a focus, a complete out-a-nowhere left hook making their mishaps of the last year seem less than trivial - makes them feel a little less sorry for themselves. And that, I find very annoying.


Pray for the victims and for justice to be done.


November 9th, 2011 at 6:33 PM ^

That is the only appropriate response to this program that we have learned has had coaches with knowledge of pedophilia in their midst. But PSU has to do it on their own. There is no NCAA rule that covers this. But ask yourselves - was SMU's offenses worse than this? I think not. PSU needs to end the program as a first step at addressing this shame.


November 9th, 2011 at 6:34 PM ^

That is the only appropriate response to this program that we have learned has had coaches with knowledge of pedophilia in their midst. But PSU has to do it on their own. There is no NCAA rule that covers this. But ask yourselves - was SMU's offenses worse than this? I think not. PSU needs to end the program as a first step at addressing this shame.


November 9th, 2011 at 6:57 PM ^

Thank you for writing this, and well done.

Of course, the victims of Coach Sandusky are, and should be, foremost in everyone's thoughts and prayers.  But I understand what you are saying here, Six-Zero, and feel much the same.  No matter how many horrible stories we hear of both small and large evils, we like to believe that there are people and places who are above it.  Sometimes, those people become institutions whose values become defining characteristics to which many look to with hope.  Paterno did that at Penn State.  Even though I never was a fan, I always listed Paterno among the coaches to whom I would entrust my three boys.  

So, when we find out that we were wrong, and that the institution and the man that we believed were above such things (not perfect, mind you, but willing to do what was right even when it was hard), we lose something, too.  That loss is incomparable to that of the victims, but it is still a loss, and worthy of acknowledgement.

All that we can do is pray for those boys, and remember that there are still good people in the world worthy of our trust and faith.  Some of them are leaders of men in prominent roles, and some are posters on this blog who are great dads, uncles, big brothers, and friends.  So hold the kids in your lives tight, and promise yourself that you will do what is right, even if it is hard, if ever put in the position to do so.


November 9th, 2011 at 7:03 PM ^

When this is over the shell of a program/university is what will kill JoePa.

One phone call fixes this situation, but thats hindsight. Do whats right and life my not be convenient, but at least you won't worry about regrets.